Community activists at odds in shooting case

Community activists at odds in shooting case

July 14th, 2009 by Lauren Gregory in News

They may both be calling for an investigation into the police shooting death of 15-year-old Alonzo O'Kelley Jr., but Timmy Sykes and Mahmood Abdullah want to make sure the community knows they're not doing it together.

Mr. Sykes, a pastor and local NAACP executive committee member, said Monday he felt the need to clarify publicly that the "glory hounds" who spoke at Mr. O'Kelley's funeral Friday were not part of his group.

"We have no affiliation with those knuckleheads," said Mr. Sykes, referring to Mr. Abdullah of the Chattanooga Community Council and another black activist, Papa Ricks.

"It's one thing being a community activist and bringing something to invest in the community," Mr. Sykes said. "It's another thing to be a community activist who is running your mouth with nothing to say."

Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ricks were not on the program at Mr. O'Kelley's service, which had been organized by Mr. Sykes and his congregation at Greater Pilgrim Rock Baptist.

But the two got an enthusiastic reaction from mourners when they launched an impromptu rally in the funeral home chapel. They alleged that Chattanooga Housing Authority police Lt. Erik Reeves murdered Mr. O'Kelley on July 1 by shooting him multiple times near the East Lake Courts housing development.

According to the autopsy report, Lt. Reeves shot Mr. O'Kelley once in the back; police say the youth raised a weapon at the officer before being shot.

The Chattanooga Police Department and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are still looking into the shooting, and NAACP branch President Valoria Armstrong announced Friday that she was launching her own probe to keep law enforcement accountable throughout the process.

Mr. Abdullah said Monday that he appreciates efforts by the NAACP, but wonders whether it will accomplish anything.

"What have they done?" he said. "If they have been doing so much, why is it that changes haven't been made? ... We're going to try to apply for a grant to show people that we can change it around because Sykes is not going to do it."

Mr. Abdullah didn't specify the type of grant he was seeking, but said he needed the money so he could spend more time dealing with those who are inciting violence and less time trying to earn a living.

"We'll go toe to toe with the young people who are doing" the violence, he said.

Nor did he say what he planned to do with any money he might receive.

Hugh Reece, director of community outreach for the nonprofit Hamilton County Coalition, said he's not surprised by the squabble between Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Sykes. He said infighting is characteristic of the local black community.

"You can't get cooperation in this area," Mr. Reece said. "With all of these organizations, it's about who's getting credit for what. ... It's like a gang mentality on a whole new level. And meanwhile, our kids are falling through the cracks."

Mr. Reece said he'd like to see black elected officials work to unify various community groups.

City Councilman Andraé McGary said it's not that simple because efforts from a council member would be fruitless without the buy-in of group leaders.

"You would hope that groups would be proactive and work together to be stronger," he said, "but it falls upon the leadership, first and foremost."